TOP PICK OF THE WEEK
No Time to Die
*** The essence of James Bond is iteration, evolving just enough to survive new eras rather than conclude—just like the Cold War, Hollywood machine and patriarchal framework that birthed the character. So it’s an unprecedented position in which No Time to Die finds itself: belting out a nearly three-hour swan song to Daniel Craig’s chiseled, well-meaning, haunted 007. Director Cary Joji Fukunaga (Beasts of No Nation) breaks visual ground in the enchanting blues and purples of nocturnal Cuba and Jamaica set pieces, and bursts of eerie emotional tension stamp his trademark on action set pieces. Meanwhile, stellar supporting actors like Ralph Fiennes (M), Jeffrey Wright (Felix Leiter) and Naomie Harris (Moneypenny) savor their chemistry with Craig to the last sip. Of course, No Time to Die was literally and figuratively meant for two years ago (delayed by COVID-19), when its plot line about weaponized contagions wasn’t so gutting, when villain Rami Malek’s dead stare and monotone whispering wasn’t such tired schtick. More impressive than fun, this 25th Bond outing wraps the Craig years with all the heartache (for Léa Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann) and visceral ass-kicking he’s cultivated since Casino Royale. Always in pain, always trying to quit, Craig’s Bond was the only 007 who saw his end from the very beginning. PG-13. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Bridgeport, Cascade, Cedar Hills, Cinema 21, Cinema 99, City Center, Clackamas Town Center, Dine-In Progress Ridge, Division, Eastport Plaza, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Hilltop, Lloyd Center, Mill Plain, Movies on TV, Pioneer Place, Sherwood, Tigard, Vancouver Mall, Vancouver Plaza, Wilsonville.
**** In a sublime scene in Blue Bayou, Antonio (Justin Chon) lets his friend Parker (Linh Dan Pham) ride on the back of his motorcycle without a helmet. Parker has terminal cancer, and as they ride through the night, the wind blows off her wig, leaving her head bare. It’s a moment of both freedom and vulnerability—two forces that define Antonio’s existence. He’s a Korean immigrant who was legally adopted and raised in the Louisiana bayou, but is now being threatened with deportation because of a cruel technicality that could tear him away from his wife, Kathy (Alicia Vikander), and his stepdaughter Jessie (Sydney Kowalske). To watch Blue Bayou, which Chon wrote and directed, is to understand everything about the lives of its characters—the food they eat, the vehicles they drive, the emotions that ripple through their souls. Thousands of real-life international adoptees have suffered the same fate as Antonio, but the film conveys the horror of that reality through the beauty of its intimacy. How could anyone who has watched Antonio and Jessie running together at blissfully breakneck speeds believe they should be parted? Nothing in Blue Bayou—not family, not friendship, not work—lasts forever, but the film reminds you that the things that are finite are the things most worth fighting for. R. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Fox Tower.
*** This compelling profile of climber Marc-André Leclerc comprises a mountain of existential contradictions. Leclerc’s winningest attribute is his indifference to attention while The Alpinist pours it on. And against all odds, this is a gripping adventure documentary despite Leclerc defining his improvised solo climbs as completely solo, i.e., largely unfilmed. What’s more, can documentarians really tell an ethical nonfiction story in a retrospective present tense when the shallowest Google of the subject’s name transforms the story? In any case, The Alpinist is wise to invest so deeply in Leclerc that he can’t resist its affection and insights. The almost shamanistic British Columbian is depicted as a climber’s climber, practicing the purest expression of human movement and risk. Granted, some voice-over flourishes by directors Peter Mortimer and Nick Rosen land as both pretentious and naive: “It’s hard to reconcile the ideals of his ascents with the tragic consequences.” Counterpoint—no it’s not. Maximal life and instant death dwell together in each of Leclerc’s fearless steps. And though audiences who like to stay on the ground and, let’s say, watch a lot of movies may deem The Alpinist in the shadow of Free Solo, climber Alex Honnold is here too, repeatedly testifying to Leclerc’s mixed-method supremacy on snow, ice, rock and in the undiluted philosophy of climbing itself. PG-13. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Bridgeport, Fox Tower, Laurelhurst, Liberty, Movies on TV.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
*** In the 1970s, when a floppy-haired Bruce Lee lookalike named Shang-Chi first graced the cover of his own Marvel title, comic book crusaders seemed destined to follow radio cowboys and dime novel detectives into the dustbin of cultural oblivion. The struggling publisher responded by feverishly refashioning the heroes of trending genres (horror, blaxploitation, space opera) in the Mighty Marvel Manner, typically disappointing fans all around. But Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu, forged an odd yet successful kinship with bloodless ultraviolence, pulp grandiosity and an inane origin story endlessly explained. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings completes the circle, bringing the dispossessed son of an alien-bracelet-empowered warlord to the big screen, and somehow, this latest iteration of a pointedly two-dimensional martial artist avatar reaches undeserved depths. Credit goes to the bulletproof MCU template, of course. But shove the equally athletic and comedic newcomer Simu Liu (as Shang-Chi) between the looming presence of legend Tony Leung Chiu-wai (playing Shang-Chi’s father) and comic relief Awkwafina (as Shang-Chi’s confidante/karaoke buddy), and you’ve got the makings of an excellent cast that propels the film to another level. True believers should be more than satisfied with the punch-’em-up choreography effortlessly pivoting from balletic bouts to Wick-ian technique to fated CGI spectacle. Somehow, still, director Destin Daniel Cretton (Just Mercy, Short Term 12) finds space to let blossom a genuinely touching emotive backstory for our immortal archvillain and a (however fleeting) fresh perspective on a martial arts master. PG-13. JAY HORTON. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, Dine-In Progress Ridge, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Movies on TV, Pioneer Place, Studio One, Tigard.
The Universality of It All
*** The Universality of It All is the debut documentary by Andrés Bronnimann, a Swiss-Mexican-Costa Rican director and producer. The film, which took nearly two years to make, is a study of human interconnectedness as explored through the eyes of the director’s best friend, Emad, a Yemeni refugee living in Vancouver, Canada. The question driving Bronnimann’s project: How did two people with such different backgrounds become so connected? He starts to answer that by explaining how the two met in college in 2013, which instantly grounds the film in a relatable space before taking the audience on a voyage through some of the global events that defined that era. The Universality of It All touches everything from the Yemeni Civil War to the 2016 U.S. election to the great Costa Rican and Nicaraguan migrations. Bronnimann artfully lays out how those experiences contribute to our current migration trends by employing infographic aids and interviews with experts. But rather than presenting the information academically, Bronnimann artfully shoots imagery that pops off the screen like moving Life magazine photographs that provide emotional weight, and the narration is hushed but sincere. While this isn’t a documentary that follows traditional journalistic standards, it certainly gives us context worthy of any equation used to come to a conclusion about global migration. NR. RAY GILL JR. Virtual Cinema.
Dear Evan Hansen
** Is Evan Hansen a teen tormented by anxiety, isolation and depression? Or a con artist masquerading as the best friend of a boy who killed himself? The answer is simple—he’s both. Humans crave characters who are easy to adore or despise, but when Dear Evan Hansen debuted on Broadway in 2016, it defied that dichotomy, becoming a blockbuster musical and winning six Tony Awards. The movie mines the play’s ambiguous magic by bringing back original star Ben Platt as Evan, who is so lonely that he invents a history of bromance between him and his dead classmate Connor (Colton Ryan). Connor’s parents (Amy Adams and Danny Pino) accept Evan as a surrogate son, but he’s haunted by guilt—and the truth that his deception may be all that’s keeping him from ending his own life. Dear Evan Hansen diehards will be delighted by the film’s heart-expanding performances of songs like “You Will Be Found,” but not by the ending, which radically revises the story so Evan can atone for his lies. In the play, the greatest act of penitence wasn’t apologizing. It was living honorably in the wake of your mistakes, an idea the film fails to understand. The result? An adaptation with the shape of Dear Evan Hansen, but not enough of its sad, strange and beautiful soul. PG-13. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas Town Center, Cornelius, Dine-In Progress Ridge, Evergreen, Fox Tower, Hilltop, Lloyd Center, Mill Plain, Movies on TV, Pioneer Place, Sherwood, Tigard, Vancouver Plaza, Wilsonville.
The Eyes of Tammy Faye
** In the most absurdly erotic scene in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield) tells his future wife Tammy Faye (Jessica Chastain) how he found God. He claims that after running over a little boy and rupturing his lung, he vowed to devote his life to the Lord if the child lived. When the story is finished, Tammy Faye is so enraptured that she practically orgasms, proving that religion is an aphrodisiac for the pair—at least until they get lost in greed and the film develops a case of the biopic blahs. During the ‘70s and ‘80s, the Bakkers ruled PTL, a televangelist empire that created a Christian water park, concealed Jim’s infidelity, and swindled its followers out of millions. Their marriage was an epic saga of capitalism, faith and sex, so it’s no surprise that The Eyes of Tammy Faye tries to cram in decades of gaudy details. By trying to show us everything, the film risks saying nothing, but it’s somewhat salvaged by Chastain’s eerie sincerity and Garfield’s trademark smirk, which gives new life to the old joke that PTL stood for “pass the loot.” PG-13. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Bridgeport, Clackamas Town Center, Dine-In Progress Ridge, Division, Evergreen, Fox Tower, Living Room, Stark.